Part the First

This is going to be a bit of a brain dump, there will be a lot of that until I hit some kind of stride. This is literally the most I have written in MONTHS. My RV is parked in the driveway, I have an impossibly short window of time  to do an immense number of things. It’s beautiful to be beyond that Dark Place.

I’ve been on an interesting sleep schedule, I’m allowing myself to stay awake as long as I want because I have so much to do; Lately I’ve been working all night till about 9-10 AM then sleeping until 3-4PM , repeat. It’s working surprisingly well, it’s amazingly freeing to be able to do this.

The first surprise about freelancing is how much you can do when you are stripped of the excuse that you don’t have the time. There is a certain amount of psychic agoraphobia tied to this vast open space of time  that I myself must regulate and make use of.

Honestly it feels like an opiate, a constant state of last minute-ness. Working in the middle of the night certainly helps to give it that last minute feeling.  This is a topic I’ll come back to, the concept of procrastination as an extreme sport.

Sometimes I think I could stay up indefinitely if it weren’t for eyestrain. I’ve also found it immensely helpful to have a wonderful puppy to sleep next to me, I think he’s sleeping for me and feeding me extra energy. He’s amazing at sleeping, he’s like a sleep technician, a slumber artisan, a cuddling virtuoso.

 

Ritual vs Habit

“I am a brain, Watson, the rest of me is a mere appendix”

Those are, as you may have guessed, the words of Sherlock Holmes. To provide some context, in the story The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Watson and Holmes’s landlady are increasingly concerned about Holmes because he refuses to eat until he solves the case. “What one’s digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain.”

I am not advocating an eating disorder in pursuit of your creative craft, but there is truth to what Holmes says. This is the second Monday in my “Monday is creative day” regime and so far it’s working splendidly (I know it’s only been a week, but optimism is essential). Think about your day, think about when it really starts. For me personally I feel like the day picks up speed as soon as I have breakfast and does not slow down until late at night. This may not be true for everyone, but I would suggest to you that you pinpoint when your day starts and try to get some writing done before then.

In the case of postponing breakfast, one might think that this is “dangling the carrot,” and for some it might be, but I find that this is a simple way to exercise your willpower and make your writing time your own.

What we’re aiming for is a writing ritual, not necessarily a writing habit. Rituals are a lot easier to start and maintain than habits, which is why they’re employed in some form by every religion on earth. Let’s take a look at the word habit:

Habit noun
3b: The involuntary tendency or aptitude to perform certain actions which is acquired by their frequent repetition.

This would be a very nice thing to have, I would like to get to the point where I write so consistently that it is second nature. I would like this to stop just short of hypergraphia, which would be interesting but also terrifying. On the other hand…

Ritual noun
Any customary observance or practice; the prescribed procedure for conduct.

This seems well within our reach. We use rituals to develop behaviours which can turn into habits. We can’t aim directly for the habit or we will fail. Only bad habits are easy to acquire.

So when we choose, for example, to abstain from food until we have written, we lend the writing act a significance it might not otherwise have. We also sanctify (literally: to set apart) that period of time, recognizing it, consciously and subconsciously, as important.

I encourage you this week to set apart some time for writing. As always, write whenever you can, on the back of a napkin, in the margins of your newspaper, but also find your own ritual to build walls around your writing time. Perhaps in building your ritual you will acquire the writing habit, but either way, you’ll get more writing done.

How my memory works (as far as I recall)

I was thinking recently about memory and how it works and fails to work. All of these are true events.

The initial phase of short term memory is less like memory and more like an extended perception of the present, there is as yet no distinction between what is happening and what has happened. I will call it nanomemory

For instance, this morning when I was looking for socks I found one, placed it on top of the dresser and commenced to look for another sock. Less than a second later I looked on the top of the dresser and the first thought to cross my mind was “a ha, another sock!” and then of course memory kicked in to compare the present with the now-faded past causing me to smack myself in the head.  I am a computer nerd so the those are analogies I find most apt. Perhaps it will work the opposite way for people who understand memory better than computers. This “extended present” is like the cache on a CPU. It stores things that are being worked on right now, in this very nanosecond. A lot of things are written to this particular sector in very quick succession, time is passing, I’m experiencing new things and all the while these data are being stored so to my nanomemory so my brain can work on them.

Next in our timeline is what I will call micromemory. This is the period within two or three minutes of the bit of data in question. My micromemory, at least in the aural spectrum, has gotten very good since it has been constantly stretched working as a barista. The need to have total recall for anything spoken in the preceding 30 seconds has honed this particular area a great deal.. The odd thing is, it doesn’t feel like I’m accessing memory, it feels as if I am playing back a recording. There is, as far as I can tell, no comprehension taking place. This is a good thing because I certainly don’t need a lot of grande lattes floating around in my head taking up space, heaven knows there’s enough useless information up there already.

The next segment is the short term memory, this is an area of immense fallibility for me personally. I imagine this bit of my mental landscape looking something like a game of layrinth, only with no walls, just a tilting plane with a lot of holes in it and memories are the marbles attempting to pass through. It doesn’t seem to matter how important a piece of information might be, in fact it seems that the great weight of a given bit of data makes for a heavier “marble” which is even more likely to fall through the holes. I’ve tried many ways of patching up these holes. I’ve tried to remember things by repeating them to myself out loud, writing them down on my hand, even making myself do mental checks every time I pass through any door just to make sure I haen’t forgotten anything. To No Avail. The curious thing, though, is that when bits of information fall through the holes of my short term memory they don’t just vanish, they plummet onto the vast plane below, which is my long term memory.

Here I will return to my geek analogies (for anyone who would like a good metaphor for a bad short term memory the closest I can think up is a corrupt page file, but that one breaks down). Anyway, my long term memory is like my hard drive. Coincidentally, my computer hard drives are one of the few things I like to keep organized. My music is impeccably sorted, my files are categorized and shuffled into neat well-named folders. This is also true of my long term memory. It’s pretty good. I can usually recall things stored there with only a little bit of searching. There is no conscious process for organizing my long term memory. Perhaps it is simply that when I have time between me and the memories then the linearity becomes more apparent thus providing a ready made filing system for the data of my mind. If you ask me who sings a particular song or who was in a paticular movie I should be able to recall it if the information has ever been presented to me. I wish I could get the same kind of organization for the rest of my memory.

More on memory will certainly follow.